Custom Pinball Shooter Rods, Launch and Start Buttons
Custom Pinball Shooter Rods, Launch and Start Buttons
Cart 0

About Us

I am a Pinballer.

“CLUNK!”  I crave that sound and have for more than half a century.  In 1969, I walked into the Pinball Alley in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the first time.  A random percussion symphony of bells, pops, clicks and clunks left no room for human voices.  I found an open machine, Shipmates, and put in a dime.  A credit showed up on a dial and the first challenge was to figure out how to put it to use.  Not wanting to push the wrong button I looked around at the other players and spotted someone starting a game.  This machine required pushing the ball up onto the shooter rod before you could launch it into play, which forced another glance around to figure out how. 

The first ball bounced around the top a few times and then went SDTM (straight down the middle).  I nudged the second a bit and it came down onto the flipper.  My first flip.  It was a 5 ball game, (a rarity today even on games that cost a dollar to play) and I ended up scoring enough points to hear the crack of a free game.  I was hooked.  Having only a buck and change, I left about 2 hours later broke and exhilarated.  A feeling akin to the first touch on a first date or having a computer program work on the first run back when lines of code had to be on punch cards.  Full of anticipation.

In a few weeks, I could put a quarter into a machine and play all afternoon leaving games on the machine when I left.  That semester was the first time I failed a course and ended up with a “D” average after a year and a half of nearly all “A”s.  I was the scholarship chairman at the fraternity and on probation.  Sounds a bit like Animal House.  The seduction of pinball was impossible to resist, the machines were beautiful with a dose of chaos wrapped in a set of rules. Much like dating, except that the rules were simple enough to understand and printed on a little card in the corner.  They were surprisingly complex rules considering they were programmed using only relays, switches and about a quarter mile of wire. 

I managed to control the addiction to the point that I did graduate, but once that monkey rides your back, you don’t pass a machine without a tingle and a warping of local gravitational force dragging you to the machine.  I rarely can summon up the escape velocity to move past it, without copping a feel and never without a closer look.  It’s as unavoidable as glancing down at deep cleavage while talking to a woman. 

How many machines do I own?  More than dozens, less than hundreds.  This is hard to pin down since to own a pinball machine has different meanings.  Hauling one home and keeping it repaired is one way, the other is to know a machine to the point that you can play as long as you want and never have to pay for a second game.  I’ve hauled over 40 machines home and still have 28 of them, with my 29th on order.  12 are Electro-mechanical or EM machines, seven are Solid State (SS), these were the first with computer control, and scoring was shown on liquid crystal displays similar to the first digital watches.  Two are Dot Matrix Display (DMD) and four are in a new category.   The EM machines work on relays and a vast complex of wires to control the play.  DMDs have a dedicated computer with firmware reading the switches and controlling the action.  They have a six inch high dot matrix display below the backglass which alternately shows the scores and crude animations.  Some are used for simple video games during the play.  The newest type uses a full blown computer with operating system that can be updated in software from a thumbdrive and a backglass that is a large computer monitor. 

There is one other type, Virtual Machines which are not really pinball machines, but simply a video game on a big screen mounted where the playfield should be in a not quite full size pinball cabinet.  They are a bit like looking at a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue compared to wonton sex with a beautiful woman, a much less satisfying experience.

 For many years I have coveted a SS machine known as Xenon.  It was second machine to be given a voice.  A gorgeous woman’s face filling the backglass beckons you with a sexy giggle and “Welcome to Xenon.”   As you play, this low, sultry voice instructs you where to put it, the ball that is.  “Try a Tube Shot…” (yes, you shoot up into a clear tube for big points) leads to a heartbeat and moaning that quickens as long as you keep the ball in play.  The moaning eventually gives way to gasping and it has been my second greatest pinball regret that I’ve never brought her to climax.  Playboy has licensed three different machines, but none come even close to the Xenon experience.  My greatest regret is that I didn’t buy the Xenon machine that Jeff offered me.  So one of the first machines I bought when I had the opportunity and cash was Xenon.

As for the first machine with a voice, it was a waste of good pinball parts.  The character is a red monster, Gorgar.  Imagine the Hulk with a 5 word vocabulary.  “Gorgar,” and “Gorgar hurt” make up 90% of his conversation with you.  After hearing that a thousand times you really start wishing he would just go off and die somewhere. 

After buying a “Lord of the Rings” pinball machine in 2011, I started a small business producing custom pinball shooter rods.  The inspiration was seeing a gold plated replica of the One Ring.  With the One Ring of power on the shooter knob I would be in possession of it every time I put the ball in play, but then I'd have to let it go.  It was a great concept and I bought the largest I could find, size 14, and mounted it on the end of a regular shooter rod.  I liked it, but the diameter was too small.  I found a size 15 ½, which was much better.  After contacting several companies I found that one could make a size 16 and after several small orders I took a chance and ordered 50.  The big breakthrough was convincing Marco Specialties to carry them.  Between eBay and Marco I sold over two hundred ring shooters in the first 5 years.  Fast forward to 2023, the One Ring is size 22 jeweler quality, 24 carat gold plated tungsten and the line has expanded to nearly 400 different shooters and now includes launch and start buttons with total sales over five thousand.  It's paid for my 28 machines several times over which range from a purely mechanical 1934 Rockola World Series to The Big Lebowski.  There are 4 woodrails, 2 wedgeheads, 6 more EMs including Spirit of 76, 2 cocktail tables, 7 SSs, 2 DMDs, and 4 computer-based with HD screen displays.

The machine that brings back the most memories is Spirit of 76.  Three of us would regularly go to lunch at a driving range that had the machine.  There was a good size bar and a dozen tables in the main room, with 3 or 4 pinball machines on a small sun porch overlooking the range.  As ranges go, it was very generous.  You stood at the top of a hill so that drives would carry another 30-40 yards.  If you simply topped the ball ten feet, it would roll down another 100.  The view from the sunroom took in both the range and miles beyond.  The best sport happened while Harold was out gathering up the golf balls out on the range.  Everyone at a tee would gun for him in his cage on the golf cart.  They served a pretty good lunch and you had better clean your plate or you’ll get an earful from the lunch lady who cooked it.

Getting back to pinball, the three of us would buy one game and it fell to me to win enough games for all of us to play.  Once we had 3 games on we all played our own game and the shooting order normally went, lowest score on the previous game went first, on up to the highest score last.  In the rare event that no one scored a free game, we would change the order randomly.  That machine had such a hold that three of us now own that machine, I personally have two. 

One fateful day a new guy was hired on in the office and I found out he was a pinball fan so Jeff joined us at lunchtime.  The other guys bragged about how good I was and insisted that Jeff and I play two separate games to see how good this upstart was.  So instead of a single quarter we dropped in two.  Jeff was indeed a good player and rolled the score on his game while I came up short of even winning a free one, a very rare occurrence.  But that was the cruel charm of pinball, where it's possible for me to beat the best player in world in a tournament even though 9 times out of 10 I'd loose.  Jeff became a regular in our now foursome at Harold's.

 We played and drank beer, sometimes not returning to work for hours.  Once we were there until 8 o’clock that night.  One of us four was my boss, so it wasn’t a big deal for me showing up late from lunch.  He was a mediocre player at best and wouldn’t have let me leave even if I wanted to.  I was needed to win the games so he could keep playing for free.  Jeff however, was not so lucky.  His boss wanted punctuality and sobriety, difficult commodities to find at Harold’s on the Hill. 

In less than a year Jeff had moved on to another company, but we still met at Harold’s for lunch, beer, and pinball, rarely in that order. In fact, the first person through the door ran to the Spirit of 76 with quarter in hand.  A few times we found someone else already playing and were force to play the machine next to it, to be ready to jump on Spirit of 76 the second it was open.  For a long time that other machine was Gorgar.  This could be part of my revulsion towards it, but only a minuscule bit.  Consider listening to it say “GORGAR!” every 45 seconds even if no one’s playing.  So, the second order of business after grabbing Spirit was turning Gorgar OFF!  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Harold caught onto this.  Not hearing “GORGAR!” every 45 seconds can be just as upsetting once you brain loads its “GORGAR!” cancelling program.  Similar to the lighthouse keeper who wakes up in a cold sweat at 3am because 20 seconds went by and fog horn DIDN’T sound.  Just as soon as there was a lull at the bar Harold would come back, cuss us out and turn it on again. 

Jeff had a habit of heading off to the men’s room just before his turn came up making everyone wait.  To encourage him to hurry when he reappeared from taking a leak I would yell out, “Here comes your ball” and shoot it into play.  He’d run, massive cursing would follow, but he rarely lost the ball from that.  A few times I actually gave him a good shot.  Then there was the day that shortly after he headed for the john, I lost the ball, so I headed after him.  I let a good 30 seconds pass so he could get settled into a compromised position and open the door with the flat of palm firmly in the center.  This was a hollow core door that swung inward and the result was a seriously loud bang.  This affected Jeff’s aim when he jumped about two feet in the air resulting in some stray urine on the wall and floor.  The obligatory cursing ensued with promises of payback, most of which I missed because I was laughing so hard.  This, of course, became standard procedure for the next few months, both of us anticipating it and slowing the whole “taking a leak” process considerably.  Neither of us wanted to start our business for a good minute or until the bang.  Once I stood at the inside of the door with the flat of my hand about 6 inches away from the door.  The first bang was followed by a second similar bang and then a clunk when Jeff hit his head on the rebounding door. 

The climax came several weeks later.  We were in there after work, and Jeff heads to the men’s room.  30 seconds later I give an extra good bang, knowing that he’s waiting for it, but perhaps not for an earsplitter.  I’m halfway through the door when I hear, “WHO THE HELL IS BREAKING MY DOOR?”  I hustled back to the machine and you never saw anyone with a more painted-on look of concentration than mine, covering up complete distraction.  Harold had been taking a dump and Jeff claims he jumped high enough that his head was visible above the partition, but I’m a bit skeptical on that point.  I know the stall door could be heard outside when he opened it.  The “door bang” fell out of favor for a while, and is now used only every other time someone takes a piss while we’re playing. 

I found a Spirit of 76 in nearly perfect working condition in Huntsville for $100.  Jeff had given me a pinball machine before I moved south, and this was the perfect machine to return the favor.  This year it was included in one of the pinball tournaments and yours truly had top score at the end of the competition.  I missed qualifying for the playoffs by one position, mostly due to that one top score.  Ironically, for the first time, they had added a prize for being the “top loser” - $100!  Spirit is still paying off. 

Wayne Neyens, the principal designer for Spirit of 76, told the story at Expo 2005 of back when 'Spirit of 76' was being produced, he and a few colleagues were enjoying after-dinner conversation with Judd Weinberg, the president of D. Gottlieb and Company. While Wayne's colleagues predicted a production run of 2,500 games, or 3,000 games, and other numbers in this range, Wayne remained silent. Judd noticed this and asked Wayne to give his prediction of how long the run would last. When Wayne confidently stated the number would be 10,000 games, an amused Judd promised that if it went that high, he personally would deliver one of the games to Wayne's door. Wayne says that the serial numbering of 'Spirit of 76' began at 3001, and it was serial number 13000 that was stamped on the machine that Judd delivered to Wayne in recognition of the 10,000th game produced. It was the only game that Wayne owned but is now with the Pacific Pinball Museum.

There is one other eerie coincidence with the Spirit of 76.  Last year, I managed to qualify for the playoffs of the first classic tournament.  Being near the bottom of the list I was paired with one of the top qualifiers, an excellent player who tours the pinball circuit.  In a best of three, he won the first, I won the second and then I squeaked out a win playing a machine that he had chosen.  In the playoffs the higher seed gets to choose playing position, first or last, or which machine to play on.  Most players will pick the machine and have to play first on it.  By winning the first round I was in the money, at least $100.  The next player was actually better than the first having finished in first place and drawn a bye.  This went the same as the first round, lose, win, win.  Up to $150.  In the semi-finals I played Andy Rosa, one of the top 3 players in the US.  I won the first and second, I have at least $300 now. 

For the finals, my opponent chose to go last, so I picked the machine.  Every time I had a choice, I picked the same machine, “Volley,” a 5-ball game with a full game tilt, meaning a tilt, even on the first ball, ended the game.  Experienced players won’t choose them because going first is a huge handicap.  They are single player games and the person going second knows what he has to beat before he puts his first ball in play.  If the first player tilts early on, the second player can play ultra conservatively and assure a win.  If the first player posts an awesome score the second player knows that he must play more aggressively.  It was my best score in the qualifying rounds, so I went with my gut rather than my head.  I won the first game by a good margin and now it’s my turn to choose.  Of course, I chose to play Volley, since now I had won four straight games playing that machine.  I tilted on the third ball, an easy win for my opponent.  He stewed a bit, but finally chose to go second for a third time, maybe thinking I’ll pick another game having just lost on this one.  I don’t.  We play Volley for the third time and I post the best score of the night for the machine.   When his fifth ball drains, he would have lost even if I had tilted on third ball again; I had that many points.  The purse was $600 with a trophy. 

Jeff was also in the same tournament, but didn't qualify for the finals, while I had $600 and a trophy declaring me the State Champion of the classic tournament in honor of Wayne Neyens the designer of Spirit of 76.  I finally had my revenge for the embarrassment he caused me on that first game we played on Spirit of 76 years before at Harold's.